Saturday, April 20, 2024

IN FOCUS:GREEN BUILDING-Ensuring responsible growth in Hyderabad

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Just before bifurcation of the combined State of Andhra Pradesh, questions were raised about the real estate market in Hyderabad, though it had always been a vibrant one otherwise. Hyderabad, the happening city, bucked trends and trashed all kinds of ominous projections. Then came the pandemic, which turned clock back briefly.

Notwithstanding such upheavals, the real estate market in Hyderabad is once again looking up with hopes soaring among local, national and international players. The Pioneer’s Amartya Smaran takes a close look at the grand scenario that is unfolding with focus on green building concepts that help build a sustainable city with shared responsibilities.

The unprecedented growth of the real estate sector in Hyderabad is in-your-face, just can’t be overlooked. For instance, when one sees the outlines of tall buildings from the newly constructed Durgam Cheruvu cable-stayed bridge, it erases all the memories of quaint structures of a bygone era, particularly for those who had grown up in the suburban regions of the city.

According to a report, the city recorded the highest number of residential sales(35,372 units) in all of south India last year.  In the fourth quarter of 2022, homebuyers preferred the following localities: Tellapur, Gundlapochampally, Kollur, Puppalaguda, and Kokapet.
Whenever you pass by one of these localities, there is a fair chance that either your parents or grandparents or someone who hadn’t been to the area for quite some time, would exclaim, “Back then, there was nothing here. It was just plain forest! Now, everyone wants to live here. Only God knows what’s here!”

For that matter, realtors are busy constructing whatever they possibly can at any given location to match the growing demands of the market.

Considering average property prices across the top seven cities over the last five years, the real estate market in Hyderabad remains the most affordable with the mean property price being Rs. 4,620 per sq ft.

The state government has been investing handsomely in the city’s infrastructure. The growth of the IT sector has spurred the ever-growing floating and working population, which in turn has helped the market flourish like never before. Reports suggest that the market would favour long-term investors in 2023.

All told, this rapid growth and demand for real estate brings to the fore the present and potential impact of the extensive construction activity on the environment.

India is the fourth biggest carbon emitter in the world, with the construction industry being responsible for 19% of the greenhouse gases that are among the major pollutants.
In the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27), held from Nov. 6th through Nov. 20th, 2022, India set out to achieve the target of net zero emissions by 2070. As per reports, construction-related activities are responsible for around 40% of the carbon footprint.

Cutting trees indiscriminately in the name of urbanization is another problem that we need to look into. As per the Forest Conservation Act, 1980, more trees are supposed to be planted than the number of trees approved for removal. Between April 2012 and March 2022, a total of 92,646 trees were officially felled for government projects.

“In 2010, the Tree Protection Committee would on average allow felling of 90-95% and another 5-10% had to be retained or translocated,”  shares Uday Krishna Peddireddi, co-founder of VATA Foundation. “Today it’s come down to 20% felling and 80% translocation. That’s one thing that we’ve achieved and we made it difficult for the committee to approve the felling of trees.”

On the trees being actually translocated, he observes: “I have been following up with the departments and there’s not much information. Then I put an RTI and I wrote to the department asking from 2008 till now, how many trees have you cleared for felling and how many trees for translocation and where is your compensatory plantation. If the translocation has happened, where have they been translocated to?

And what is the condition of those trees? They don’t have data up to 2015, which is very convenient because we’ll never know and they’re not answerable either. There’s no one really checking these things. Probably we were the first ones to keep pushing the government on these numbers.”

He amplifies: “The positive thing is we managed to bring pressure on them to consider translocation and now we’re getting into a mode where we will start following up on where these trees are being translocated and what’s the condition of these trees.”

Green buildings are designed and constructed in order to create a positive impact on the environment. The concept of green construction is catching up rapidly with every passing year. There are a bunch of international certifications in place that make this possible. For example, the US Green Building Council has developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design(LEED) system to rate green buildings based on certain benchmarks. In the UK, there is Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method(BREEAM) that does the same.

As for India, it is heartening to know that we have the Indian Green building Council – Hyderabad (IGBC), which has developed the first rating programme in India for residential and industrial sectors.

The best thing to happen for any city is the realization among real estate players that they ought not to disturb existing structures and keep the vacant lands with greenery all around, limit pollution, etc. No one canafford to stop development. But everyone can stick to development that minimizes negative impact on the environment. We should continue with development as the demand for housing is growing continuously because of the increase in population, the aspirations of people for quality accommodation, and the requirements of society as a whole for more comforts and luxury, according to Vijaya Sai, MD, S&S, Green Projects, Hyderabad.

Vijaya Sai goes on to say, “Following IGBC guidelines is a solution for residential or commercial complexes as these will, if followed with passion and commitment, improve design efficiency, lighting, and ventilation(also cross-ventilation), material efficiency by using waste materials like fly ash, conserve scare resources like water and electricity.

These can be easily implemented in the projects if we incorporate these aspects from the design stage itself. As India is leading the world green building movement by reaching a magical figure of 10 Billion Green Building footprint, there are no major challenges like in the beginning years of this century. The availability of the right material is a problem in the earlier stages. Now, with the introduction of Green Pro certification by IGBC for materials, about 4,000 products are certified by IGBC which include sanitary and water fixtures, wood products, cement, paints, glass, etc.”

The chairman of the Indian Green building Council Hyderabad (IGBC), C Shekar Reddy shared recently that Telangana has registered one billion sq ft of green building footprint. As per the US Green Building Council’s annual report, India ranked third in the world for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) of green buildings in 2021.

“If we follow the Green Building certification norms and continue with the developmental plans, we can definitely strike a balance by reducing the effects of development as these initiatives will greatly minimize the damages that occur to the location and its surroundings,” avers Vijaya Sai. “But it is always better to implement these initiatives with passion and commitment to achieve the results and also the satisfaction of being part of sustainable initiatives. Finally, green buildings not only address ecological issues and concerns but also make good business sense for the developers as these projects will command a premium in selling price and preference to lease by MNCs in the case of commercial buildings.”

According to reports, green buildings reduce power consumption by 20-30% and water consumption by 30-40%. To cite an example, Siemens built the Crystal in London. It is one of the greenest buildings in the world. The building is 70% illuminated by natural light as a result of its triple-glazed windows. Solar panels produce 20% of the electricity it uses. The rainwater is collected from the roof and stored in an underground tank for use in the building. In 2012, the building cost about 30 million pounds but it does save a lot of money when it comes to electricity.

At the time, Peter Daw, the Cities Projects Developer at Seimens said, “In terms of CO2 savings, we are saving about 71% compared to an equivalent building. In terms of energy costs, we are saving about 500,000 pounds a year.”

Apoorva, a construction estimator, who’s currently based in the US, says: “You hear people say and assume, ‘Green construction is expensive and time-consuming’. People dread the things that they are unaware of, like maintenance and costs. This is the first thing that people get wrong about green construction.”

Taking about how feasible it is for traditional companies to make the transition to green construction, Apoorva says, “If you ask me, green construction is definitely feasible. We’ve come a long way in terms of evolution where humans have brought in schemes and designs which are straightforward and easy.  The best example is solar energy. In a country like India, where we have plenty of sunlight, it’s no sweat to implement and incorporate solar energy. People get carried away by high-level nonviable concepts that are being portrayed on the internet today and shoulder green construction as a concept.”

“Major difference between green construction and traditional construction would be the usage of resources,” adds the construction estimator. “Green construction is all about using resources that are sustainable and more efficient compared to traditional construction. People take time to accede to it, as the results take time. But when you budget it out as an overall expense, green construction turns out to be the less expensive option as future/monthly utility bills will be way lower. It’d be difficult to make people understand that the initial expense will be beneficial in the future, to start with.

Construction-wise, it would be difficult to go a different route after years of practicing traditional construction.”

Apoorva winds up by saying, “As someone from the construction industry and someone who believes in mental health, I would like to encourage firms to incorporate biophilic design at workplaces. Biophilic design is a sub-division of green construction which basically means connecting people to nature in a built environment that is bringing the outdoors inside.  Major companies like Google and Microsoft have embraced it successfully. It’s proven to improve work efficiency, reduce stress, embrace a healthy work environment, and improve the overall productivity of employees.”

Commenting on the mindless construction activities that are taking place in the city, Chaitanya Kumar Keshireddy, CEO of Vintage Village Farms,remarks: “Every state has Floor Space Index(FSI). Throughout the world, huge towers are built in the downtown regions, and on the outskirts, they don’t allow the construction of high-rise buildings. In India, especially in Hyderabad, there’s no FSI. Meaning builders can go as high as they want. And it’s a problem because we have a huge land bank.

High-rise buildings utilize excess power, water, and natural resources. What is important to a human being is pure air and water, and less pollution. It’s a luxury these days! And people are being sold flats in the guise of providing luxury. When it comes to fire safety measures in Hyderabad, the maximum limit is up to 17 floors, but people are building up to 33, 45, and 60 floors. Nature will take its own course. We’re exploiting natural resources and no one can stop nature. Skyscrapers are good to look at, but one must keep in mind that the safety measures are up to 17 floors.”

These observations of Chaitanya Kumar might may sound alarming for someone who’s new to the subject. Most builders are going ahead with these practices and looking at the entire affair from a business point of view.

Chaitanya Kumar Keshireddy, CEO of Vintage Village Farms, points to the positive changes that are taking place in the construction industry, “We are revolutionalizing the construction industry with various concepts. We didn’t have the technology back then and we’re coming up with new 3D technology. A lot of builders nowadays are coming up with Light Guage Framed Steel Structure (LGFSS) technology. Even wooden houses are coming up, which are prefabricated in the company itself.

With the usage of technology, there’s a reduction in manpower as well. When it comes to sustainability, material wastage will be less and they can reuse the material. A lot of builders have started using UPVC windows and glass so that energy consumption is less. They are also cutting down on natural resources like sand, granite, and marble.”

” Everyone is talking about sustainability but in modern-day design, sustainable architecture isn’t there,” opines Chaitanya. “We’re using excess water and energy in one place and we’re destroying all the mountains in and around Hyderabad for the sake of construction. We’re using high-level technology and saying India is growing, but at what cost? People are showing a bunch of plants and calling it greenery, but these are all ornamental trees. But do they know how much oxygen peepal trees release and percolate water into the ground? Our soil doesn’t have the capacity. Every year, whenever it rains, we’ve got floods. Why isn’t water percolating on the ground? Because we have cement roads everywhere. We don’t have water right now and we’re using the water that is deep beneath the ground.”

Seconding Chaitanya’s point of view, Uday Krishna says: “I get phone calls from people in these gated communities. The landscape architect suggests some trees that are absolutely ridiculous. They’re not local and they do not contribute to the local biodiversity. They only grow quickly and look good. Now you find plants like conocarpus everywhere. These trees are highly allergic. They don’t belong here, and some countries have actually banned them. We should just stick to the local varieties. They grow slowly but they do contribute to the local biodiversity. “

The co-founder of the VATA Foundation opines: “The landscape architects are planting ornamental varieties whose roots grow aggressively. The roots find their way all the way to the cellar, all along the pipelines, into the apartments and they break into the ceiling of the parking lot. Most of these major communities are sitting on this problem as we speak actually. There should be nothing but soil under those trees. Not even a single building is doing it.”

Uday Krishna concludes: “If you ask me what would be a green building, I’d say it should strictly be 30% construction below;the rest of the 70% should be on soil. That is when you have rainwater harvesting happening. We are spending a lot for water but we’re not saving the water that’s coming for free. Earlier we used to get water if we’d dig up to 200-300 feet in Hyderabad but now even if you go 1,000 feet beneath the ground, you don’t have it. We are digging deeper for water but we are wasting more water. We won’t be having the flooding that we have in the city if we had more places that soak in the rainwater.”

Our desire to grow at supersonic speed and build skyscrapers is fine. But all of us – realtors, architects, communities and authorities– need to pay attention to nature.

We should be mindful of the possible repercussions now and in the future. Building a sustainable city is in our hands. It is a collective responsibility.

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